The 17-year-old girl was driving down the freeway in Michigan, wearing a seatbelt, when she saw the car in front of her rapidly slow down. Before she could avert disaster, she drove right into it. Her airbag deployed instantly — so fast, in fact, that she didn’t have time to close her eyes.
When she showed up at the emergency room soon after, she was mostly uninjured. No one else in her car had been hurt. But her vision was blurry. She felt like she had something stuck in both in eyes, even though there didn’t appear to be anything there.
Doctors used a special staining process to try to see what might be going on, and they made a surprising find. Clear as day on the surface of her right eye, they could see “the imprint of the nylon mesh pattern of the airbag cover,” they wrote in a recent issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, describing the strange case.
Her left eye was less patterned, but showed visible scratches, what’s known as a corneal abrasion. There was also a small amount of bleeding, in the part of the eye directly behind the cornea.
Fortunately, the report in the New England Journal of Medicine has a happy ending. The patient made a speedy and full recovery. With a little eye ointment, the scratches healed in 24 hours. Two weeks later, the bleeding had stopped and she had 20/20 vision in both eyes.
While this case was particularly interesting, airbag-related eye injuries are not uncommon — and can sometimes be much more serious.
“I have seen this a lot,” Dr. Jules Winokur, an ophthalmologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, told LiveScience. “Actually, this case report is a really mild case of the damage that airbags can do,” she added, mentioning one of her reent cases that left the patient permanently blind in one eye.
Bahar Gholipour, writing in LiveScience, notes that “even with eyes closed at the time of impact, the force of an airbag can cause nerve problems, make the retina detach or rip apart eye tissue, sometimes with life-long consequences.”
Still, all things considered, most would see walking away from a car accident with nothing but an eye injury a lucky break.
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